Accidents And Ambulances

I had dozed off earlier in the day and so was running late for a regular Tuesday evening meeting scheduled for 7. Knowing it would take me the usual 15 minutes to reach the venue, I checked my watch as I went out the door. The simplest of calculations told me I would be 5 minutes late. It was 10 to 7.

On foot I reached the traffic lights in no more than five minutes. I had just passed them a matter of seconds before I heard a bang and a screech of brakes. Involuntarily I crouched, an instinctive shielding reaction, before turning round and taking in the accident scene in front of my eyes. I rushed over, unsure at first in the dark of what the form was that lay in front of the car. My heart sank with the realisation that it was a small woman rather than a large dog. Frantically but futilely searching for my cell phone, I shouted to the driver of the car to call an ambulance immediately. I looked to the side of the road and asked a younger man also to call an ambulance. Both did. The whole thing took seconds and hardly added any substantive time to the five minutes it took me to cover the ground from my home to the scene where I was now standing. If it was not 5 to 7, it was no more than 4 to. When the ambulance eventually arrived I checked my watch and it was just after 7.30. 

I had some first aid experience, acquired about 7 years ago but my mind seemed blank when I tried to apply it as I knelt down to help the woman on the ground in front of me. My instinct was to lift her but something kicked in, checking any intention I might have had to do just that. Her airways were clear and she seemed to have fortuitously landed in the recovery position. The blood flowing from beneath her head alarmed me. It appeared viscous and I panicked at the possibility that she might bleed out on me and I was lost as to what to do. I thought that at some point I might have to move her head in order to stem it. By this time others were at my side, unwittingly calming me down as I tried calming her. Others began traffic management.  

Dazed but conscious the accident victim was repeating “oh my God.” I contemplated whispering an Act of Contrition in her ear although I was not sure I could remember it any better than I could my erstwhile first aid skill. What dissuaded me was not my total lack of religious belief but a memory from my past when along with Jim Todd I had been knocked off a tyreless bike in Cromac Street. An Act of Contrition was whispered in my ear, which caused me to jump up in fear that there might be something seriously wrong with me. God was alright in those days but I was not ready to make his acquaintance just yet. The prayer sent more adrenalin shooting through my veins than the shot of brandy somebody poured down my throat in the Trocadero Bar minutes later as we lay sprawled in the lounge seats to which we had been carried to await the ambulance which did not take half an hour to arrive if my memory is reliable. The stricture against moving accident victims was much less observed in those days.  In any event had I felt the prayer would have been of comfort to the woman I would have said it without hesitation. It was not the time to stand on principle.

As we waited we kept the woman talking. She told us her name and that she had just turned 80. She seemed remarkably calm compared to my agitated state. I noticed some paper money lying on the ground beside her and lifted it and asked the man beside me to hold onto it. He declined. I later wondered why I passed it to him. He could do no more with it than I could. Confusion and indecision reigned. I placed it in her coat pocket and later informed her son when he arrived on the scene.

Still no ambulance. Shock was turning to anger. The Garda arrived after about 10 to 15 minutes, saw that she was being attended to and began their investigation, acquisitioning the car keys and securing the scene. There was little else they could do at that stage. And it wasn’t long before I could sense their frustration that no ambulance had yet arrived. Somebody said it was coming from Navan, more like Kerry it seemed to me. I overheard a garda say after about 20 minutes that it was now at Duleek.  Those gathered at the scene were voicing their dismay.

The night was chilly, and the injured woman was complaining of the cold but her bleeding seemed to have slowed to a trickle.  She needed something beneath her to prevent the cold coming up from the road but we were unable to move her.  At somebody else's suggestion, I took off my coat and placed it over her. Other coats quickly followed while the number of men standing in shirt sleeves increased proportionally. We engaged her in conversation, doing our utmost to ensure she stayed with us. We got her children’s names and phone numbers. By now I had found my phone, inwardly cursing myself for not having the presence of mind to locate it in the first place.  I rang her daughter but got no answer. A neighbour rushed off to find the daughter. We spoke to the frail victim, stoked her face, tried reassuring her and made sure to be out of her earshot before fuming about a health care system that was so tardy that an 80 year old woman was compelled to lie on a cold road in the middle of winter for so long without proper medical attention.

By now a young woman had approached. She was on her way to a work out.  Calmly she asked what had happened and immediately took control. Easing herself down beside the injured woman, she began a conversation. It was almost melodic in its ability to soothe. Carefully she checked and probed, at all times seeking to increase the comfort level of the injured woman.  She not only soothed her but us as well. More people than just I commented to her after it on how calming an influence she had been. Some people just have that ability to read a stressful situation and master it. I am not one of them.  

The Garda took details, seeming dismayed that none of us had actually witnessed the accident. But I could only tell them what I saw, not what I didn’t see. While a few feet from it my back was to the accident.

When the ambulance arrived the medical team expertly strapped the woman into a stretcher and took her to hospital accompanied by her son. Tonight I heard that she was recovering. I had feared that if the accident didn’t see her done for then something like pneumonia might, she had lay on a hard cold road for so long. On arrival in the house I took a large whiskey to bring me down. My wife and a friend who dropped by settled my nerves but not the anger.  

Thinking about it today, I am less agitated but no less angry about what I witnessed last evening. While I did not see the accident I did witness an alarming lack of alacrity in terms of response time. The ambulance people were certainly not to blame. It is not as if they were playing snooker in the mess and decided to finish the game before hitting the road. This is a systemic failure to deliver proper healthcare at the point of first contact in accident and emergency. 

Having spoken today to Anthony Connor, a former member of the Ambulance Crisis Forum, it is clear there is a serious problem about which I would like to write more in a separate piece. The big issue at the minute is a lack of beds in the Lourdes Hospital, leaving people to spend inordinate amounts of time on trolleys in corridors. But even if the beds crisis is resolved what use will it be if the ambulance system is not fit for purpose to get them to hospital on time? Ambulances are meant to be life enhancing machines, not carts for collecting the dead.  

The political elite often tell us about the need to tighten the belt to prevent squander and increase efficiency. What happened last evening on the Beamore Road was anything but efficient. A woman’s life could have been squandered as a result of an inefficient service. It is not good enough. The implicit systemic disrespect for one of our most vulnerable, an elderly citizen, is a damming indictment of a government that has the audacity to claim it is caring. If it does care it is for banking cartels not burdened citizens.


  1. The Tories are purposefully running down the NHS in the UK and in the South health care isn't free at the point of delivery.

    With no exaggeration we should follow Cuba's lead and focus on universal health care. Otherwise the gap between care for the rich and the poor will increase causing perhaps a problem that will spread throughout society and will be hard to reverse.

    This nonsense about laissez-faire capitalism when it isn't hands off and allowing the economy to run but hands on and bail outs aplenty. Better a sink or swim economy or better yet a fair, equitable society where all human beings are treated equally not dependent on how wealthy they are.

    Think about how many similar stories of frustration at health care provision North and South there are. Change is essential.

  2. Brilliant personnel piece, I picked up on, not only your frustration but your concern about response times an issue close to my heart and something I have been working on for the past 14 Month's thanks for this piece you have awakened a sense of urgency in me. I lost a Friend Jan 2014 and Ambulance responses times played a major part in that incident once again Thanks

  3. So next time there a strike for pay in this sector it should be opposed ? This is the key issue, you can higher pay but there will be less jobs all around, and more old ladies freezing on roads waiting for ambulances. It's never couched in these terms though.

  4. DaithiD,

    there might be is something in that if first we subscribe to the caustic wit of Rex Stout that "Nothing is more admirable than the fortitude with which millionaires tolerate the disadvantages of their wealth"

  5. Read that and felt for the woman and her family, read Simons comment and remembered that he is a quisling $inn £eind supporter the party of welfare reform and bedroom tax,deferred only until their mafia build enough substandard one and two bedroom houses , they and their queen will never have to worry about mansions with empty rooms ,we need a sea change in politics and politicians here, people who care not the gombeen men and women we have in both the Dail and Stormont, we cant blame the ambulance crews or the hospital staff when we witness the hours that they have to work to make ends meet compared to their fat cat bosses and their political masters, wont be long until the guy in the handcart comes round once a week calling "bring out your dead "change is most certainly essential but you can be sure none of the cunts presently infesting the Dail or stormont will ever effect any ..

  6. AM, not quite true, given there was supposed to be a strike in the North over pay from the same people. There are no millionaires whims involved in that, its purely tax payer funded.
    Until citizens realise that governments factoring in a growth in future revenues to cover current pay is a bogus a assuming house prices always goes up, we will always be kept divided from each other.
    Public sector spending should assume the lowest growth in the business cycle. Or i could just screech you all want old people to die so public sector fat cat ambulance drivers can have their cream, thats how this debate is conducted elsewhere.

    Funny people brick cops cars and not ambulances though, both agents of the state no?

  7. As an occupational first aider I have limited skills and once found myself in a similar position fortunately the ambulance arrived within 30 minutes which seemed much longer unfortunately the patient didn't make it... since I didn't actually witness the incident I couldn't comment on the details of the incident either and this seemed to be the only thing the guards cared about when they arrived ,I needed to be relived by someone who had better training and this was not forthcoming until the ambulance arrived... I hope the victim of this rta in Drogheda on Tuesday is OK and remember you done your best

  8. DaithiD,

    that would only work for me were I to place a greater emphasis on Thatcherite concepts such as there being no such thing as society, just individuals. But I don't. I think society is conceptually very important and I do not blame the ambulance drivers for wanting higher pay than what they get. I do however blame the greed driven approach whereby individualism is encouraged for no reason other than ensuring wealth is not a societal entity but the property of individuals.

    And I always smile when hearing from the rich that they need more money to motivate but that the poor need less.

  9. Marty,

    I think that is an unfair depiction of Simon's comment. From what I can see he is a critical supporter of SF rather than the unthinking type we are so familiar with. And his contribution to discussion on this blog has been exemplary.

  10. Fish,

    your comment is very much appreciated. I was told this morning that the woman is being operated on for broken bones and is also being treated for a head injury but is expected to make a good recovery.

  11. DaithiD "Funny people brick cops cars and not ambulances though, both agents of the state no?"

    If a third of the Northern Ireland economy consists of public jobs then by that logic 1 in 3 people are agents of the state.

    The ambulance service saves lives whereas the police seem indifferent at best and malevolent at worst particularly when in the past they took lives.

    As for NHS pay, I'd be happy paying more tax towards it. I would be much more happy paying for universal health than the chunk that comes out of my pay for the 'defence' forces.

    We all fund the British wars overseas and here in Ireland whether through income tax or VAT. Paying towards the health service is a doddle in comparison.

    Poorer countries afford better health care. Economics isn't to blame. It isn't impossible to fund a thriving NHS. Policy is to blame.

  12. AM, the very wealthy do not depend on state except for the roads they travel on (private healthcare,schools, employment etc), yet they pay nearly half their wages towards it.It seems pretty altruistic to me.
    Are you saying wealth strips peoples of their right to pursue individualism? Who is to decide what is enough? Would you trust a government to set this amount? Its an area replete with unintended consequences.

  13. Anthony a cara 2nd attempt, to me critical support means diddly squat,what it means is beyond me,I support the party,s stated aims of a united Ireland even if no -one is left due to the destruction of the country by said party,whether its McGuinness or Burton these bastards have driven the people into the ground on behest of bankers and millionaire funders ,to me its either part of the problem or part of the solution no in between those in power do not give two fucks what the people think,it has gone to far for critical debate those who dissent will be demonised and brutalised by the state,lenghty waiting times in hospitals and on ambulances will be off set by the speed critical people are sent down , this all of course will be critically supported by quisling $inn £eind and their supporters critical or not ..

  14. DaitihiD,

    nothing altruistic about it in my view for the bulk of them. They give only what they are compelled to by the constraints set on their greed by democratic sentiment. More often than not they seek ways and laws to protect their accumulation.
    The notion that the rich do not depend on the state for anything other than the road is a strange one. They depend on the state to organise the dominant block and minimise its internal rivalries; they depend on the state to disorganise the dominated bloc; they depend on the state to mediate the relationship between both blocs and maintain the functioning of an inegalitarian society. No great insight on my part there: it has all been written before. We don’t even have to subscribe to Marxism to see how bound up the rich are with the state. Pluralism has been demonstrating it for a long time.

    I do not believe wealth strips people of their right to individualism: but poverty and inequality does. And there is strong relationship between the acquisition of wealth and the reproduction of inequality and poverty.

    And I don’t trust the government but I have yet never seen the poorest in society advantaged by the absence of a government. Who needs yachts when others have no food or medical care? Oscar Romero called it right when he advised the rich to give the rings on their fingers to the poor before the poor cut their fingers off in order to get the rings.

  15. Marty, You have a point in that there is an incongruity between my vote and my stance stated above. I have gone through all this before explaining I feel I shouldn't disenfranchised myself and should therefore use my vote for the least worst option.

    This is my way of using my right to vote. I have a list as long as my arm of things I disagree vehemently with Sinn Fein. My vote doesn't negate my opinions. I don't feel I am hypocritical since if Sinn Fein weren't there I would vote for the next least worse option.

    They mightn't correspond with my views but they are closer than most. Certainly closer than the rest of the choice on my ballot.

    Other people have their own method of voting or not but I don't feel I should have to explain every time I comment or repeat myself purely because people disagree.

    Saying that I admit the incongruity.

  16. AM, they might want to start sharpening the knives.Just as an aside, I feel something awful is on the way. The Baltic Dry Index, which is related to the cost of freight, is at all time lows, commodity prices are tumbling. In short, nothing is getting made, nothing is getting transported for sale, yet stocks are making all time highs. It looks like a giant 'pump and dump' taking place (like in wolf of wallstreet but the whole market this time).
    This is Government made bubble too.

  17. Simon you also have the right to choose the right of not voting..

    Ireland is one of the worst places in Europe to retire right now

    'Among western European countries, only the struggling economies of Spain, Portugal and Greece sunk to lower ratings this year. All three were ahead of Ireland in 2013.

    The list ranks countries according to four key factors that dictated welfare in retirement including: health and access to good health services, having material means to “live a comfortable life”, access to good financial services and living in a clean and safe environment.

    Health rating plunges

    Ireland’s rating has fallen in all the segments, with the country plunging 14 places on the health index since 2013, when it was rated in the top 10 for the category.

    The drop in Ireland’s health category is mostly due to a smaller number of physicians, which is consistent with the country’s increasing unemployment rate,” the report said.

  18. AM, DaithiD- the 80 richest people own half the world's wealth. I bet they don't wait for health care.

    I am not saying they should but I don't see why access to health care should be market driven. Everyone should have equal access and people should pay according to wealth or income not according to need.

    Less wealthy people tend to have more health problems so it is unethical to make them pay for access as this would be a doubling of misfortune.

    I believe there is a strong moral and ethical argument to pay for aid to allow people in less developed countries to provide health care for themselves. They are hit hardest by malnutrition and disease.

    We shouldn't have sink or swim policies nationally or globally. The world is a smaller place these days with communications and transport so helping people who are vulnerable mainly because of unplanned circumstances or because of where they were born seems reasonable.

    We should ensure that there is adequate health care at home and abroad. Beats carpet bombs at any rate.

  19. 50,000,000 spent on 'consultancy' fees for Irish water. There is no end to the personal greed in this country. Saw a young lad hit by a car in Manila. He went a good 12 ft into the air. His eyes were glazed over and after a brief examination by some drivers he was slung into a taxi so 4 lanes of traffic could recommence moving. My wife said no hospital would treat him, he had no money. Very sad, we were both in severe shock after the experience.

  20. Anthony,

    I contemplated whispering an Act of Contrition in her ear although I was not sure I could remember it any better than I could my erstwhile first aid skill.

    I'm trying to get my head around that.. You thought about whispering words about a god/religion you don't have interest in to the old lady..

  21. Frankie,

    it was about what might be of comfort to her not about what I believed.

  22. DaithiD,

    government locked into the logic of capitalist economics. Political economy has much to recommend it in terms of enhancing our understanding.

  23. Simon among even the "ordinary members " of q$£ a vote is about as useful as tits on a bull, its a top down party led really imo by MI5 and agents of influence ,when people like Jonathan Powell write Gerry Itwasntme,s Ard Fheis address then really it must be a wake up call ,what we are witnessing throughout Europe is a downward spiral to a time when the working class knew their place usually in the slums, we desperately desperately need a total clear out of the shit that run these islands they are a bunch of maggots that are draining the life out of all of us,if they are allowed to continue they way things are heading we wont have to worry about ambulance times ,there wont be any ambulances ,we really need to consider swopping votes for something much more effective, ,

  24. I,d have gently whispered into her ear that she had nice tits. might have had more of an effect than an imaginary deity.

  25. Frankie,"Simon you also have the right to choose the right of not voting.."

    I realise that but I feel with people overseas having no right to vote and with the franchise hard fought for I feel I am making better use of my right by voting for the least worst option rather than by abstaining.

  26. What I find so shocking is the neo liberal cancer has eaten into what were once reasonable, sensible peoples brains.

    When the Chicago school were asked to provide intellectual cover to convince human turkeys to vote for christmas they could never have imagined the success they would have.

    Its infantile to claim when workers fight for better pay they are responsible for less health care workers being employed, and old ladies lying injured for far too long in the road. Christ I despair sometimes.

    Scabbing is little different to touting in my book both are working for the enemy.

    Simon stick to your path, you have no need to justify why you will vote for SF or any other party come to that is voting is still your democratic right. SF is far from perfect but if you believe they are the best of a bad bunch stick a peg on your nose and vote for them.

    If people will only vote for a party which crosses all their T' then not only do they live in la la land but if they are active politically they are in the wrong game.

    I better stop before I write something offensive but I will finish with this;

    Austerity is not a short-term disruption to balance the books. It's the demolition of the welfare state.

  27. Mick "Austerity is not a short term distribution to balance the books its the demolition of the welfare state " your beloved quisling $inn Feinds are willing agents of the very people whose aim that is ie Cameron and his millionaire cabinet ,yeah vote q$£ its really is pissing down peoples back and telling them its raining, to me voting for those bastards is as about as offensive as it gets...

  28. Mick , to be fair it's not just the ambulance workers that prefer higher pay to potentially saving old ladies lives, your Leftist lot need to take some share of the responsibility for presenting the debate in false dichotomies to give their argument a veneer of legitimacy.Admit it, you effectively love geriatric massacres.

  29. Someone pointed out to me that many people who voice support for the 1913 Dublin Lockout vociferously speak out against current day strikers of one form or another. People don't want to strike but are pushed into doing so.

    With vital services like the ambulance service for example it is difficult to support an out and out strike as lives will inevitably be lost. In the long term, on the other hand, if services are allowed to be run down more people will die on an ongoing basis.

    There must be a way to not play ball completely with the employer with some other behaviour to display your unhappiness with working conditions.

    Saying that, ambulance service workers shouldn't have the right to strike taken away from them merely because they're a vital service. Otherwise they'd be walked all over.

    The best case scenario is for the ambulance service workers having no need to strike as others stand up and fight their corner for them.

    I don't know if a wildcat strike is allowed. If the workers in other areas all struck we would see prompt and powerful action taken then.

  30. What happened here has happened untold times all over the island, irrespective if it is a Free State ambulance or an Occupied Six...the push is on right across Europe for an American style insurance health system.....

  31. Niall is correct there is an end game ongoing with public sector workers being used as pawns, the Damocles sword of peoples health and well being hung over the emergency services to prevent these people striking , has it never occurred( and I,m sure it has )to most people that those in management never threaten strike action and we know why the imbalance in renumeration for their skills is a vast canyon of a difference,its always those at the bottom of the pile who get paid the least that are expected to do the most, hospital workers have been treated like skivvies for far to long they should let the people know they are withdrawing their labour en masse you can bet your arse that will shake the government into a positive outcome,if not the people might just force them to .

  32. Anthony, it was my aunt on the road. Thanks . Had a lot written but deleted it, just disillusioned.

  33. Peter,

    I hope she is well on the mend. Feel free to write whenever you wish. Keep the spirits up.

  34. Peter, I hope your aunt recovers fully. I only know the story from this site but would like to add my good wishes to Anthony's. I want to wish your aunt a speedy recovery. All the best!